Beaufort must convince public of need for change

On downtown redevelopment project, the 'why' is equally important as the 'what.'

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 7, 2014 

Beaufort City Council should go back to square one in dealing with the push back it is getting on plans to redevelop the City Marina parking lot.

It should help the public better understand why it wants to change the status quo in the first place.

Plenty of dissension was aired last week when a private developer revealed for the first time what he might do with the land. A written vision of the 4.2-acre lot fronting the Beaufort River on Bay Street included: a boutique hotel, retail space, restaurants and full-time and seasonal residences.

The city owns the land, but has agreed to either lease it or sell it to a private development firm if the city approves its plans. It is now considering a zoning change to accommodate future development.

The city is looking to increase its tax base and economic vibrancy along Bay Street. And it says the current parking lot could easily be the least advantageous use for such a rare lot, positioned in the commercial district, next to the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

Those are good goals, but rather than call questioners vision-less sticks-in-the-mud, the city needs to make its case in hard numbers.

Why would it want to produce more retail space on a street where existing businesses often struggle to stay afloat?

Would the city's involvement give the new retailers, restaurant owners and innkeepers an advantage over like businesses down the street or around the corner? Would the city be subsidizing the new businesses?

If the parking lot is closed, several important functions would need new homes. First is parking. Where would the new parking be located? Who would pay for it? Where would the horse-drawn carriages go? Today, the parking lot is the embarkation point for historic carriage tours. Where would the buses go that now use the parking lot to unload tourists? Where would the public bathrooms go, if that building was razed? Would public bathrooms remain at least equal in size and convenience?

A great deal of attention is being given to what the new buildings might look like. Some say the redevelopment would block a priceless view of the water, which is a major calling card for Beaufort. The city must convince the public that it has regulations in place to ensure appropriate scale and look of new development, and that this developer would not be given special treatment that other businesses not so closely aligned with the city do not get.

Drawings of the potential development are to be aired in about eight weeks. Meanwhile, the city should go back to square one and prove to the public that redevelopment of this tract is needed in the first place, and that it could be done fairly.

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